Capital Chatter: Who was the session's most powerful figure ?
Who was the most powerful member of the 2017 Oregon Legislature?
Maybe Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day. Or, more accurately, maybe it was the entire Republican caucus in the state Senate.
• The Oregon Capitol's east wing: In the end, Senate Republicans were unbending against a corporate tax overhaul floated by the majority Democrats, and Republicans helped block a separate small-business tax increase that the House unwisely passed.
Republican Sens. Jackie Winters of Salem, Brian Boquist of Dallas and Tim Knopp of Bend took leading roles in budget, sentencing, transportation and labor issues. As far as Capitol-wide leadership, this session was a coming out for Knopp, who collaborated with Democratic Sen. Kathleen Taylor of Milwaukie to achieve middle ground on labor bills.
Ferrioli and most Republicans have solid working relationships with Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. Republicans, such as Bill Hansell of Athena, felt comfortable giving Courtney their ideas. Unlike the House leadership, Courtney and the Senate Democrats were careful not to push bills that would back Ferrioli into a corner and cause a Senate meltdown.
High-profile legislation passed over Senate Republican objections, but none was a showstopper.
With Courtney looking for common ground, Republicans made progress in such areas as easing mining restrictions in Eastern Oregon, an issue pushed by Ferrioli and Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton. Girod also given the job of co-chair of the Ways & Means Capital Construction Subcommittee, an inaccurately named panel that handled various mind-numbing and potentially contentious issues.
• The Oregon Capitol's west wing: Only last month, I would have said House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, was most powerful. She was so steadfast — or obstinate, depending on one's point of view — in preserving the House Democrats' left flank that lawmakers tried circumventing her and negotiating directly with other legislative leaders.
Kotek bottled up key Senate legislation in the House while pursuing revenue reform: new, higher taxes on business. She stood against meaningful reforms in PERS and protected public-employee health care, all while publicly embracing "cost containment."
The House passed a host of liberal bills, including Kotek's personal passion of rent control, which she called "rent stabilization." On a variety of issues, the Senate moderated or killed what the House sent over.
The Senate first defanged the rent bill and then let it die. The majority Democrats' revenue proposal died in a House-Senate committee as well, taking with it any hope for even slight changes in the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System.
Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, did much of the work on revenue reform, and he and Kotek eventually met in the middle with a new form of corporate taxation — a commercial activity tax. Kotek likely could have gotten that revenue bill through the House, but it had no chance in the Senate.
Kotek then blocked an alternative plan to simply increase current corporate taxes, which had Republican support. She feared its passage would take the steam out of what she considered real tax reform.
Outnumbered by Democrats 35-25 in the House, Republicans could put up a stink but only stop bills that required a supermajority for passage. In return for providing one vote needed to pass the health care provider tax, Republicans got Democrats to drop other bills. House Republican Leader Mike McLane of Powell Butte adeptly kept Republicans together when Democratic leadership tried to roll them.
Republicans such as Cliff Bentz of Ontario and Greg Smith of Heppner did influence transportation and budget bills. The transportation package likely would have fallen apart without the leadership of Bentz, who returned for the Legislature's last days after an emergency heart procedure.
• The Capitol's center — in office geography, not politics: What about Democratic Gov. Kate Brown?
She declared the legislative session a rousing success, achieving a number of her priorities. Indeed, legislators credited her chief of staff, Nik Blosser, with forging a compromise on "clean fuels" that was the breakthrough on the transportation-finance package. On certain issues, her policy analysts also were heavily engaged.
But the Legislature discarded such budget proposals as closing the Junction City branch of the Oregon State Hospital, opening a new women's prison and passing several taxes.
Going into the Legislature, Brown's goals were not as defined as the achievements she claimed afterward.
Brown's role also was unclear. Partly, that's because she succeeded governors who were willing to knock heads or force people to the negotiating table. That is not her style. She works more behind the scenes, without calling attention to herself. Discussing the legislative session with Oregon journalists, she did not go into the details of what she or her staff did.
Contrast that with Senate President Courtney. Republicans and Democrats alike applauded his legislative director, Anna Braun, for her tenacity in achieving bipartisan compromises. Courtney, who loves a good story, talked about how he made dozens of phone calls and text messages throughout a weekend to gain agreement on a bill regulating employee work schedules in certain industries.
He admitted to mulling the bill during Mass and contacting key players while shopping in Walmart. Such stories also portray him as a regular guy — someone who shops at Walmart.
After the 2017 Legislature adjourned, House Republican Leader McLane reminded reporters that Kotek is a calculating politician, who does everything for a reason. Courtney is just as calculating, although that's often hidden by his oversized persona — which is calculated as well.
A case can be made that Courtney — through his political acumen, moderating influence and collaborative style — was the most powerful person in the Oregon Capitol. If so, he is such a pessimist that he would not admit it, let alone gloat. And he would never believe that the news media said something nice about him.
• Heading out the door — separately: The 2017 Oregon Legislature ended last Friday with the Senate adjourning more than three hours ahead of the House. It was a fitting metaphor for the previous six months.
Publicly, everyone said it wasn't a slap at the House by the Senate.
But senators from both parties had been peeved with the House. And after the House took off July 3-4 while the Senate worked both days, senators were in no mood to wait for representatives to finish up. Meanwhile, the House suffered a mini-meltdown.
Dick Hughes has been covering the state's political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com or follow him at Facebook.com/Hughesisms.